In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning…

…While the whole wide world was fast asleep, as we once again slouched our way toward a 4:30 AM adjournment on Wednesday, Frank Sinatra’s classic recording of this great Mann and Hilliard song kept going through my head. I know I wasn’t the only one in the chamber who was wishing he was somewhere else, but who are we to mess with tradition?

It’s no longer news that the Illinois legislature once again passed a completely predictable budget package. It’s the biggest budget in state history coming in at over $53 billion, $13 billion more than the first budget passed under J.B. Pritzker only 5 short years ago. Again keeping with tradition, it was written behind closed doors by Democrats with no input at all from the minority party or the public. It’s full of questionable priorities, breathtaking appropriations of pork to Democratic legislators and unsustainable spending levels. Among them:

  • $200 million is being diverted from the Constitutionally protected Road Fund to fund mass transit operating expenses, with $125 million going to the RTA. It comes at a time when the RTA is facing a nearly $800 million fiscal cliff next year brought about through breathtaking mismanagement of the money given to it during Covid. The least that could have been done was to tie the appropriation to reform. We’re told that this is a one-time only event. But  if this is really only a one-time transfer, we’re already talking about starting the next fiscal year in a $200 million hole on top of the $800 million fiscal cliff. There’s an old saying that when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.
  • While the majority party pounds its chest on how it’s out to help ordinary people, this budget creates a program paid from the Road Fund to allow rich people to buy electric vehicles. The base price of a Tesla is about $75,000. Given that the average income of the people in McHenry County in 2022 was $45,600 it’s not very likely that anyone around here will plop down $75,000 for a car on the promise of a $4,000 tax credit. This money is coming right out of the pockets of working people in Illinois. How many years does it take for a normal driver to pay $4,000 in motor fuel taxes that you’re giving to a wealthy Tesla buyer all at once?
  • IDOT is being given $400 million to set up a grant program to fund projects in “economically disadvantaged” communities without defining what that means.
  • The House and Senate Democrat caucuses will receive $500 million more to spend on member initiatives. If they had any conscience or any sense of ethics, they would treat this money as a campaign contribution and report it to the State Board of Elections.

I could go on (if you want to hear my full floor speech, click here), but you get the picture. We have an Administration that’s budgeting its way around the Constitution so it  can treat the Road Fund as its private ATM.

Riotous Goings-On with the Budget Votes

Very early on Wednesday morning, something happened in Springfield that I have never seen before. We’ve been hearing stories of the chaos that goes on behind the scenes within the House Democratic majority in Springfield, that they are disorganized, unprepared and divided into three factions which are at war with one another. After what we saw on Wednesday, I believe it.  

At around 3:00 AM, after the Budget Bill and the Budget Implementation Bill (BIMP) had been passed by relatively narrow margins, the Revenue Bill was called up for a vote, a bill that would raise almost $1 billion in new taxes. This was the last piece of legislation in the budget package and needed to pass because the two bills previously passed rely on these new taxes. The hour was late, and we could tell that there were legislators missing. After a robust debate of the bill, the legislation received the minimum for passage – 60 votes. In a procedural move called verification, we pointed out that at least one member whose vote had been recorded was not present for the vote, that of (soon to be former) Assistant Majority Leader Aaron Ortiz. He had left the chamber and someone else had voted his switch. After he was unable to be located, his vote was removed. The bill failed. 

According to the Democrats’ own House rules, a motion to concur with a Senate bill (which this was) gets only two chances for passage (Rule 72), so they had one more chance to pass the bill. When the vote came up again, it received 61 votes, only this time, one of the votes was a Republican who had left the House Chamber but whose switch had been voted, so his vote was removed, bringing it down to 60. But when one of the more conservative and sensible members of the majority party (of the few that still exist) decided that he didn’t want to be the vote to make it pass, he changed his vote to “No”. The bill failed for the second time. 

We already knew that Democrats in the legislature have a hard time with managing big numbers like billions, but at this point, we were wondering if their leadership knew how to count to 60. 

Meanwhile the clock was ticking, and the Democrats had no plan on how this bill would pass. Their own House Rules dictate that this motion to concur only gets two chances. Period. And they were still looking for (soon to be former) Assistant Majority Leader Aaron Ortiz, who was still nowhere to be found. 

So what did they finally come up with? Suspend the rules. When you can’t win at your own game governed by your own rules, you change the rules. That’s how kindergarteners play board games. It shouldn’t be how legislators pass tax increases. But that was their plan. Representative Patrick Windhorst, the House Republican Floor Leader, who is regarded as one of the most reserved and equanimous members of the House made it plain what was going on with as passionate a floor speech as I’ve ever heard. See for yourself by clicking here.

Finally, at 4:30 in the morning, the Democrats finally muscled through almost $1 billion in new taxes with the bare minimum number of votes, after which the Speaker came into the chamber, mumbled a few words and told us all to go home. And, because they made such a mess of the tax increase vote, some of their key policy initiatives were left without time to come for a vote. Thank you, (soon to be former) Assistant Majority Leader Aaron Ortiz!

House Speaker Chris Welch has 78 members in his caucus and still couldn’t cobble together a strong enough coalition to make the passage of the budget package easy. Governor Pritzker, who wields tremendous government and political power couldn’t get more than 65 of the 78 House Democrats to vote for his budget and had to cheat in order to get his tax increases passed. And this guy is already measuring the curtains in the White House?

Did a budget get passed? Yes. Was there a mess created? Even more than usual. In fact, their victory in passing a tax increase may have created more of problems than it was worth.